Western Cape Business News

Send  Share  RSS  Twitter  18 Nov 2009

FOOD & BEVERAGES: U-Turn Of The GM Bandwagon


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TESCO, the leading UK supermarket, chief executive Terry Leahy has admitted UK supermarkets may have been too quick to jump on the non-GM bandwagon and signalled Tesco is willing to re-open the debate. “It may have been a failure of us all to stand by the science.”

Maybe there is an opportunity to discuss again these issues and a growing appreciation by people that GM could play a vital role in feeding the world’s growing population in the face of climate change.”

Many of the Western Cape’s finest food products find their way into Tesco, amongst other leading retail chains.

Former Food Standards Agency chairman John Krebs said: “The moral tragedy of the whole GM debacle was the fact that European prissiness about genetic modification has affected its adoption in Africa.” National Farmers Union president Peter Kendall highlighted the irony that meat from animals in South America fed on GM feed unauthorised in Europe could still be legally imported into the EU – and at more competitive prices.

Their comments reflect a growing feeling amongst scientists, food industry bosses and some politicians that the European Union’s stance on GM is increasingly unsustainable. Indeed, vast tracts of land outside the EU are now devoted to producing GM crops. That meant maintaining a non-GM sourcing policy on animal feed was becoming increasingly costly and impractical.

The EU’s zero tolerance stance on imports of feedstocks containing unauthorised GM materials had already “practically stopped the import of maize gluten feed and corn distillers”, said AIC feed executive chairman Tony Bell. Meanwhile, doubling domestic production of non-GM soybeans would “only hope to fill 13% of Europe’s current demand of soybean meal”, he claimed. One industry source added: “I am pretty certain that several parties involved are actively looking for the way out of their Canute-like positions. Maybe the reality of the costs of GM-avoidance is finally striking home.”

Former Unilever chief scientist, Peter Lillford, chair of the Royal Society of Chemistry (RSC’s) food steering group, predicted the supermarkets would be forced into a u-turn on GM. “The supermarkets are going to have to do a u-turn on GM I’d say in the next three years. We’re in a ludicrous position. Go to India or South America and talk about this and you realise it really is a British backyard issue on the world stage.”

A report launched by the RSC and the Institution of Chemical Engineers last month advocated genetic modification “for the development of plants that are capable of withstanding the effects of climate change; have imported nitrogen-fixing characteristics, enhance nutrition by production of vitamins and omega-3 oils; use fertilisers more efficiently; have reduced anti nutritive factors; resist disease and pests; and survive on alternative nutrients, all of which will help to provide the basic staples at affordable prices to an increasing world population”.

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